Intervention in Libya would poison the Arab revolution

	Western military action against Gaddafi risks
	spreading the conflict and undermining the
	democratic movement

by Seumas Milne

Guardian (UK)

March 2, 2011

It's as if the bloodbaths of Iraq and Afghanistan had been a bad dream. The liberal interventionists are back. As insurrection and repression has split Libya in two and the death toll has mounted, the old Bush-and-Blair battle-cries have returned to haunt us.

The same western leaders who happily armed and did business
with the Gaddafi regime until a fortnight ago have now
slapped sanctions on the discarded autocrat and blithely
referred him to the international criminal court the United
States won't recognise.

While American and British politicians have ramped up talk
of a no-fly zone, US warships have been sent to the
Mediterranean, a stockpile of chemical weapons has been duly
discovered, special forces have been in action, Italy has
ditched a non-aggression treaty with Tripoli and a full-
scale western military intervention in yet another Arab
country is suddenly a serious prospect.

Egged on by his neoconservative lieutenants, David Cameron
went furthest. Fresh from his tour selling arms to Gulf
despots, the British prime minister talked excitedly about
arming Libyan rebels, and only staged a hasty retreat when
he found himself running ahead of the US administration.

But neither American caution nor UN security council
opposition should obscure the fact that there is now a
serious danger of western armed action in Libya. Unlike in
the rest of the region, we are no longer talking mainly
about the security forces confronting demonstrators but a
split in the heart of the regime and the military, with
large areas of the country in the hands of an armed

With Colonel Gaddafi and his loyalists showing every sign of
digging in, the likelihood must be of intensified conflict -
with all the heightened pretexts that would offer for
outside interference, from humanitarian crises to threats to
oil supplies.

But any such intervention would risk disaster and be a knife
at the heart of the revolutionary process now sweeping the
Arab world. Military action is needed, US and British
politicians claim, because Gaddafi is "killing his own
people". Hundreds have certainly died, but that's hard to
take seriously as the principle motivation.

When more than 300 people were killed by Hosni Mubarak's
security forces in a couple of weeks, Washington initially
called for "restraint on both sides". In Iraq, 50,000 US
occupation troops protect a government which last Friday
killed 29 peaceful demonstrators demanding reform. In
Bahrain, home of the US fifth fleet, the regime has been
shooting and gassing protesters with British-supplied
equipment for weeks.

The "responsibility to protect" invoked by those demanding
intervention in Libya is applied so selectively that the
word hypocrisy doesn't do it justice. And the idea that
states which are themselves responsible for the deaths of
hundreds of thousands in illegal wars, occupations and
interventions in the last decade, along with mass
imprisonment without trial, torture and kidnapping, should
be authorised by international institutions to prevent
killings in other countries is simply preposterous. The
barefaced cheek of William Hague's insistence that there
would be a "day of reckoning" for the Libyan regime if it
committed crimes or atrocities took some beating.

The reality is that the western powers which have backed
authoritarian kleptocrats across the Middle East for decades
now face a loss of power in the most strategically sensitive
region of the world as a result of the Arab uprisings and
the prospect of representative governments. They are
evidently determined to appropriate the revolutionary
process wherever possible, limiting it to cosmetic change
that allows continued control of the region.

In Libya, the disintegration of the regime offers a crucial
opening. Even more important, unlike Tunisia and Egypt, it
has the strategic prize of the largest oil reserves in
Africa. Of course the Gaddafi regime has moved a long way
from the days when it took over the country's oil, kicked
out foreign bases and funded the African National Congress
at a time when the US and Britain branded Nelson Mandela a

Along with repression, corruption and a failure to deliver
to ordinary Libyans, the regime has long since bent the knee
to western power, as Tony Blair and his friends were so keen
to celebrate, ditching old allies and nuclear ambitions
while offering privatised pickings and contracts to western
banks, arms and oil corporations such as BP.

Now the prospect of the regime's fall offers the chance for
much closer involvement - western intelligence has had its
fingers in parts of the Libyan opposition for years - when
other states seem in danger of spinning out of the imperial

But Libya has a compelling history of foreign occupation and
resistance. Up to a third of the population are estimated to
have died under Italian colonial rule. Those calling for
western military action in Libya seem brazenly untroubled by
the fact that throughout the Arab world, foreign
intervention, occupation and support for dictatorship is
regarded as central to the problems of the region.
Inextricably tied up with the demand for democratic freedoms
is a profound desire for independence and self-

That is clear in reaction on the ground in Libya to the
threat of outside intervention. As one of the rebel military
leaders in Benghazi, General Ahmad Gatroni, said this week,
the US should "take care of its own people, we can look
after ourselves".

No-fly zones, backed by some other opposition figures, would
involve a military attack on Libya's air defences and,
judging from the Iraqi experience, be highly unlikely to
halt regime helicopter or ground operations. They would risk
expanding military conflict and strengthening Gaddafi's hand
by allowing the regime to burnish its anti-imperialist
credentials. Military intervention wouldn't just be a threat
to Libya and its people, but to the ownership of what has
been until now an entirely organic, homegrown democratic
movement across the region.

The embattled US-backed Yemeni president Ali Abdallah Saleh
claimed on Tuesday that the region-wide protest movement was
"managed by Tel Aviv and under the supervision of
Washington". That is easily dismissed as a hallucinogenic
fantasy now. It would seem less so if the US and Britain
were arming the Libyan opposition. The Arab revolution will
be made by Arabs, or it won't be a revolution at all.

[Seumas Milne is a Guardian columnist and associate editor.
He was the Guardian's comment editor from 2001-7 after
working for the paper as a general reporter and labour
editor. He has reported for the Guardian from the Middle
East, eastern Europe, Russia, south Asia and Latin America.
He previously worked for the Economist and is the author of
The Enemy Within and co-author of Beyond the Casino Economy]


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